EVERYONE knows how frustrating it is when you are in a heated debate with someone and you just know that you are right but the other person simply refuses to see things from your side.
There more you point out the faults in their argument the more staunchly they defend their position.
We have all been both of these people at some point, the one trying to convince the other that you are right and the one absolutely refusing to believe you are wrong.
It is a classic situation that usually ends with both parties angrily crying, in my experience anyway.
But there is one very old trick — 350 years old in fact — that can apparently be used to make anyone change their mind.
You may have heard of Blaise Pascal, he was a 17th century French philosopher, inventor, physicist and mathematician and, as if that wasn’t enough, he also developed a handy tip to get someone to agree with you.
Pascal was way ahead of the curve in terms of psychological thinking and wrote about this hot tip in his book Pensees:
“When we wish to correct with advantage, and to show another that he errs, we must notice from what side he views the matter, for on that side it is usually true, and admit that truth to him, but reveal to him the side on which it is false. He is satisfied with that, for he sees that he was not mistaken, and that he only failed to see all sides,” Pascal wrote.
“Now, no one is offended at not seeing everything; but one does not like to be mistaken, and that perhaps arises from the fact that man naturally cannot see everything, and that naturally he cannot err in the side he looks at, since the perceptions of our senses are always true.”
Put very simply, to tell someone they are wrong you must first tell that they are right.
He suggests that the most effective way to get someone to change their mind about something is to first tell them the ways in which their argument is correct before pointing out the parts that are wrong.
People generally get very defensive if they are bluntly told that they are wrong, so by taking a softer approach the person becomes more receptive of other points of view.
“People are generally better persuaded by the reasons which they have themselves discovered than by those which have come into the mind of others,” Pascal wrote.
If someone feels like they have discovered the error in their argument on their own, without you outright telling them, then it becomes much easier to change their mind.
Now this isn’t just something a philosopher once said a few centuries ago that no longer applies to us.
According to Arthur Marman, psychology professor at The University of Texas at Austin, Pascal’s advice is still relevant today.
“One of the first things you have to do to give someone permission to change their mind, is to lower their defences and prevent them from digging their heels in to the position they already staked out,” Marman told SBS.
“If I immediately start to tell you all the ways in which you’re wrong, there’s no incentive for you to co-operate. But if I start by saying, ‘Ah yeah, you made a couple of really good points here, I think these are important issues,’ now you’re giving the other party a reason to want to co-operate as part of the exchange. And that gives you a chance to give voice your own concerns about their position in a way that allows co-operation.”
So next time you are faced with a situation where you need to change someone’s mind, old Pascal’s trick might be able to help you out.